Different Knife Blade Materials: Top Options, Their Main Attributes, and What They’re Best Used For
Knives come in all different shapes and sizes – from the small ones, like paring knives and utility knives, to the bigger types, such as chef’s knives and Kiritsuke knives. But knives differ in more than just their design, style, and how big they are – the materials from which they’re made vary too.
And, to add more variation to the mix, there are several different options for both knife blades and knife handles. For instance, you could have a knife with a stainless steel blade and a wooden handle, or a Damascus steel blade with a wooden handle. Or, why not a Damascus steel blade with a metal handle, and a stainless steel knife with a metal handle too? There are plenty of combinations to choose from, and the choice is based on a few main things – aesthetics, utility, and personal preference.
But, for now, we’re going to focus on your main blade options (since the blade is easily the most important part of the knife). We’re going to tell you all about the best knife blade materials – not all knife options, but our top favorites – and we’re going to tell you what they are, what their main attributes are, and what they’re best used for.
Stainless steel is an alloy that’s made from a combination of chromium, iron, and sometimes, nickel and other materials (often carbon) too. It’s very commonly used to make knife blades, and it’s known for being extremely resistant to corrosion – in fact, this is probably its most attractive feature, and its why stainless steel is ideal for knives that are used (and washed) frequently.
As we said, stainless steel is a super common knife blade material, and you’ll find that most types of knives are available in stainless steel – other than, perhaps, some really specialized knives that are only made from very specific, traditional materials. So, you’ll be able to find just about anything from a chef’s knife and utility knife to a cleaver, a bread knife, or even a fileting knife.
Let’s have a look at some of the best and worst qualities of stainless-steel knives.
Pros of Stainless-Steel:
- Cost Effective: Stainless steel is one of the most affordable materials that knife blades are made from, so they’re a great option if you’re on a budget.
- Corrosion Resistant: Ideal for high-use knives, stainless steel is super resistant to corrosion, so the blades are likely to be long-lasting and won’t get damaged easily.
- Easy Sharpening: One of the best things about this everyday blade material is that it’s easy to sharpen, so you can do it on your own at home without fear of damaging it (as long as you know what you’re doing) because it’s not particularly fragile.
- Decent Edge Retention: Stainless steel tends to stay sharp for pretty long, so you won’t have to sharpen it all the time and the knife will have a decent lifespan.
Cons of Stainless-Steel:
- Not the Sharpest: These knives aren’t blunt by any means, but they aren’t the sharpest knives available to you.
- Average Edge Retention: Sure, we also listed “decent edge retention” as pro, but we want to note that while it’s fairly good, there are other materials that boast way better edge retention. So, if that’s a priority for you, stainless steel may not be the best option.
- Not Super Strong: While it isn’t necessarily weak, stainless steel also isn’t considered a very strong blade material, so you can’t use it on anything too hard.
Carbon steel knife blades are made from a combination of iron and carbon, with at least a 0.05% to 0.25% carbon content. This is considered a low carbon blade (you get high carbon steel blades too, but we’ll get to that a bit later).
The first thing people are likely to say about carbon steel is that it’s strong – that’s what it’s known for. It’s also very hard – significantly harder than stainless steel – so it’s a preferred material for things that deal and work with other hard substances.
You’ll often find that things like butcher knives, meat cleavers, and carving knives are made from carbon steel because they all need serious strength and hardness.
Pros of Carbon Steel:
- Strength: Since its super strong, carbon steel is great for knives that need to work through tough materials.
- Hard: Carbon steel is a very hard material, which contributes to strength and sharpness.
- Great Edge Retention: Carbon steel stays sharp longer, so you don’t have to sharpen it regularly and the knife will last longer.
- Sharpness: Since carbon is so hard and strong, it can be incredibly sharp – razor sharp, in fact.
Cons of Carbon Steel:
- Vulnerable to Corrosion: Since it has a relatively low chromium content, it’s far more vulnerable to corrosion, so it requires good care and maintenance.
- More Fragile: While it’s super strong while you’re using it, it’s also slightly fragile, in a way, so it’s more likely to become damaged if it’s knocked or dropped.
- More Expensive Than Some Alternatives: Carbon steel isn’t generally overly expensive, but it’s not cheap either, and there are definitely more cost-effective options if you do not mind the draw backs of low carbon steel.
High-carbon steel knives are much like carbon steel knives, but more extreme, because their carbon content is significantly higher. In comparison to low-carbon steel knives with a carbon content of 0.05% to 0.25%, high-carbon steel falls into the range of between 0.6% and 1%.
This means that it’s stronger, harder, and a whole lot sharper, and that’s why it tends to be the preferred knife blade material for serious chefs.
These days, you can get most types of knives made from high-carbon steel, especially those that need to be super sharp, like Santoku knives, sashimi knives, and just about any other high-end types of knives.
Pros of High-Carbon Steel:
- Super Strong: High-carbon steel is incredibly strong, so it can be used for tough tasks.
- Very Hard: It’s also really hard, which contributes to sharpness.
- Razor Sharp: Since it’s so hard, high-carbon steel blades are very, very sharp, making them ideal for tasks that require precision.
Cons of High-Carbon Steel:
- Expensive: Unfortunately, high-carbon steel comes at a bit of a price, although we’d still say it’s worth it if you enjoy cooking.
- Corrodes Easily: Much like low-carbon steel, high carbon steel is very vulnerable to corrosion because of its low chromium content (even lower in high-carbon steel blades). So, this is a knife you really need to look after.
- Limited Designs: Since it’s very hard and strong, it’s quite difficult to bend high-carbon steel, so there are limits to the styles and designs of knife blades that can be made from it.
- Brittle: It may be hard and strong, but it’s also brittle (more so than low-carbon steel), which may be counter-intuitive. This means that it’s likely to be damaged if you drop or knock the blade, so it’s just more fragile in general.
Damascus steel is a very special type of metal, and its origins date back to ancient Syria, although the method by which it’s made today isn’t exactly the same as it was back then.
Essentially, Damascus steel consists of several layers of different types of metal forged together by means of a very specific and specialized heat retention method. The result is a metal that is incredibly strong, and the different layers of metal (with varying levels of carbon) also create a unique wave-like appearance on the face of the blade that is super aesthetically pleasing.
Thank you what's that I didn't know with another joke I never dreamed I saw that money I have my wife yeah it's gonna be real soon take a video call like soon no zoom In addition to being strong and beautiful, Damascus steel strikes the balance of being both hard and flexible at the same, which makes it perfect for precision and durability.
Pros of Damascus Steel:
- Aesthetically Pleasing: The wavelike pattern that naturally forms on the face of the blade is beautiful and is generally considered very aesthetically pleasing.
- Strong: Because of the method by which it’s made, Damascus steel is incredibly strong.
- Both Hard and Flexible: The layering of different metals is what makes for Damascus steel’s unique property of being both very hard and just flexible enough to contribute to excellent precision that is rare in blades made from a single material.
- Super Sharp: Damascus steel knife blades are known for being incredibly sharp, and this is also due to the multi-layered aspect of the blade.
- Excellent Edge Retention: Due to the many layers of metal in the blade, Damascus steel knives tend to stay sharper than many other types of knives.
Cons of Damascus Steel:
- Expensive: Unsurprisingly, Damascus steel is quite pricey, mostly because the process by which it’s made is specialized and time consuming.
A Few Other Knife Blade Options We’ve told you about some of the most popular, and in our opinion, the best, materials from which knife blades are made. However, that isn’t mean that those are the only options.
Here are a few more:
- Tool Steel: Tool steel is tough, durable, and offers good edge retention. It’s made from various combinations of carbide-forming metals and alloys, and it’s generally pretty strong. It’s similar to high-carbon steel (about 1% to 2% carbon), but it contains a variety of other metals too.
- Different Types of Alloy Steel: Alloy steel blades are similar to tool steel in that they’re made from various types of metal, but they have a lower carbon content (between 0.2% and 1%).
- Ceramic: Ceramic knife blades are known for being sharp and hard, but they’re also vulnerable to chipping easily, so you have to be very careful when handling them.
Here at The Bamboo Guy we feature steel knives made with the finest high quality steels like German 1.1411, Bohler M390, Japanese ZDP-189, Chinese VG10 and Japanese AUS-10. To read more about our different steels see our article on Best steel for kitchen knives.